It’s nice to be back at Princeton. I find it difficult to believe that it’s been almost 11 years since I departed these halls for Washington. I wrote recently to inquire about the status of my leave from the university, and the letter I got back began, “Regrettably, Princeton receives many more qualified applicants for faculty positions than we can accommodate.”1
I’ll extend my best wishes to the seniors later, but first I want to congratulate the parents and families here. As a parent myself, I know that putting your kid through college these days is no walk in the park. Some years ago I had a colleague who sent three kids through Princeton even though neither he nor his wife attended this university. He and his spouse were very proud of that accomplishment, as they should have been. But my colleague also used to say that, from a financial perspective, the experience was like buying a new Cadillac every year and then driving it off a cliff. I should say that he always added that he would do it all over again in a minute. So, well done, moms, dads, and families.
This is indeed an impressive and appropriate setting for a commencement. I am sure that, from this lectern, any number of distinguished spiritual leaders have ruminated on the lessons of the Ten Commandments. I don’t have that kind of confidence, and, anyway, coveting your neighbor’s ox or donkey is not the problem it used to be, so I thought I would use my few minutes today to make Ten Suggestions, or maybe just Ten Observations, about the world and your lives after Princeton. Please note, these points have nothing whatsoever to do with interest rates. My qualification for making such suggestions, or observations, besides having kindly been invited to speak today by President Tilghman, is the same as the reason that your obnoxious brother or sister got to go to bed later–I am older than you. All of what follows has been road-tested in real-life situations, but past performance is no guarantee of future results.
1) The poet Robert Burns once said something about the best-laid plans of mice and men ganging aft agley, whatever “agley” means. A more contemporary philosopher, Forrest Gump, said something similar about life and boxes of chocolates and not knowing what you are going to get. They were both right. Life is amazingly unpredictable; any 22-year-old who thinks he or she knows where they will be in 10 years, much less in 30, is simply lacking imagination. Look what happened to me: A dozen years ago I was minding my own business teaching Economics 101 in Alexander Hall and trying to think of good excuses for avoiding faculty meetings. Then I got a phone call . . . In case you are skeptical of Forrest Gump’s insight, here’s a concrete suggestion for each of the graduating seniors. Take a few minutes the first chance you get and talk to an alum participating in his or her 25th, or 30th, or 40th reunion–you know, somebody who was near the front of the P-rade. Ask them, back when they were graduating 25, 30, or 40 years ago, where they expected to be today. If you can get them to open up, they will tell you that today they are happy and satisfied in various measures, or not, and their personal stories will be filled with highs and lows and in-betweens. But, I am willing to bet, those life stories will in almost all cases be quite different, in large and small ways, from what they expected when they started out. This is a good thing, not a bad thing; who wants to know the end of a story that’s only in its early chapters? Don’t be afraid to let the drama play out.
1) 诗人Robert Burns说过什么被老鼠和人斟秘计划事也会偏斜，我不知道“偏斜”指的啥。更近代一点的哲学家阿甘曾讲到人生就像一盒精美的巧克力，你永远不知道下一块巧克力的味道。他们俩都对。人生确实难以预料。任何一个20来岁的年轻人认为知道自己毕业10年后情况，更不别说三十年后，我只能说他或她缺乏想象力。看看我吧，12年前我一门心思在（普林斯顿）亚历山大礼堂里教经济学入门课程，想着编造各种理由不参加教学会议，结果我接到了那个华盛顿打来的电话。。。也许你还对阿甘的领悟，有所怀疑，这儿我给你们个最实在的建议。如果有机会与毕业25年、30年或40年的校友交谈，你知道，就是那些校友聚会上坐在前排的人，问问他们25年、30年或40年前，当他们毕业时，对25年、30年或40年后的今天的他们有过什么样的期许，如果你能使他们敞开心扉，他们将告诉你，他们对如今的生活状况哪些满意，哪些不满意，以及这么多年来，他们经历过的无数高潮，低谷，和平淡。虽然感悟，衡量的标准各有不同，但我敢打赌，他们的人生故事将与当时预期的或多或少的有偏差。这是好事而不是坏事！谁想在故事的开篇时候就知道结局呢？！不用畏惧，感受人生的高高低低。
2) Does the fact that our lives are so influenced by chance and seemingly small decisions and actions mean that there is no point to planning, to striving? Not at all. Whatever life may have in store for you, each of you has a grand, lifelong project, and that is the development of yourself as a human being. Your family and friends and your time at Princeton have given you a good start. What will you do with it? Will you keep learning and thinking hard and critically about the most important questions? Will you become an emotionally stronger person, more generous, more loving, more ethical? Will you involve yourself actively and constructively in the world? Many things will happen in your lives, pleasant and not so pleasant, but, paraphrasing a Woodrow Wilson School adage from the time I was here, “Wherever you go, there you are.” If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won’t bring you much satisfaction.
2) 是否人生偶然性之大的事实，意味着小的决定和行动无足轻重，不需要规划和奋斗了呢？当然不是。无论你未来人生如何，她将是你的一个宏大和漫长的项目，是你自我成长的过程。你的家人、朋友和你在普林斯顿的时光已经为你造就了良好的开端，未来你会如何去作？你会不断继续学习、竭力思索那些至关重要的问题吗？你会 成为情感上更强大、更大度、更有爱心、更有道德的人吗？你会更积极的、更建设性的参与世事吗？你的人生会有很多故事—快乐的，不太快乐的, 正如Woodrow Wilson 学院的座右铭说得那样，“你向你想去的地方走，你就会到那个地方”一样，如果你自己 不觉得快乐，再大的成就也不会让你感到满足的。
3) The concept of success leads me to consider so-called meritocracies and their implications. We have been taught that meritocratic institutions and societies are fair. Putting aside the reality that no system, including our own, is really entirely meritocratic, meritocracies may be fairer and more efficient than some alternatives. But fair in an absolute sense? Think about it. A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate–these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others. As the Gospel of Luke says (and I am sure my rabbi will forgive me for quoting the New Testament in a good cause): “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48, New Revised Standard Version Bible). Kind of grading on the curve, you might say.
3) 成功的概念促使我考虑所谓的精英主义及其含义。我们曾被告知精英体制和社团是公平的。 先不说这社会上没有真正德精英体制，精英体制可能会比其他体制公平，有效率。但这是绝对意义上的公平吗？反复想来，精英体制是一个系统，那里是一些在健康和基因上幸运的人，他们幸运在于他的家庭支持、鼓励上，也许包括收入上幸运的，他们幸运还在于所受的教育和职业机遇，他们在很多方面都是最幸运，很难一一列举。 正是这些精英收获了大多数奖励。 在道德的高度，看一个精英即使一个假定的精英是否公平，要看这些精英是否有担当，努力工作、致力于建设更好的世界，并与他人分享幸运。正像圣经新约路加福音里说（我敢肯定我的神父可以原谅我出于好的愿望而在这里引用圣经新约里话）：“要不住恳求，就必赐给你们；要不住寻找，你们就必寻见。” 你也许觉得这就像老师是基于个曲线给打分一样。
4) Who is worthy of admiration? The admonition from Luke–which is shared by most ethical and philosophical traditions, by the way–helps with this question as well. Those most worthy of admiration are those who have made the best use of their advantages or, alternatively, coped most courageously with their adversities. I think most of us would agree that people who have, say, little formal schooling but labor honestly and diligently to help feed, clothe, and educate their families are deserving of greater respect–and help, if necessary–than many people who are superficially more successful. They’re more fun to have a beer with, too. That’s all that I know about sociology.
4) 谁值得尊重？正像圣经新约路加福音中的许多警世名言，那些被大多数正人君子所乐道的和追崇的名言，也许能帮助你回答这个问题。最值得尊重的人是那些充分利用自身的优势，或勇敢面对逆境的人。我想我们会认同，相比表面上很成功的人，那些虽然接受的正式教育不多，但诚实劳动、勤勉， 努力为家人提供衣食和教育的人是更值得尊重。当然，与那些表面上很成功的人喝两杯是个有趣的事情。这是我仅知道的一点社会学。
5) Since I have covered what I know about sociology, I might as well say something about political science as well. In regard to politics, I have always liked Lily Tomlin’s line, in paraphrase: “I try to be cynical, but I just can’t keep up.” We all feel that way sometime. Actually, having been in Washington now for almost 11 years, as I mentioned, I feel that way quite a bit. Ultimately, though, cynicism is a poor substitute for critical thought and constructive action. Sure, interests and money and ideology all matter, as you learned in political science. But my experience is that most of our politicians and policymakers are trying to do the right thing, according to their own views and consciences, most of the time. If you think that the bad or indifferent results that too often come out of Washington are due to base motives and bad intentions, you are giving politicians and policymakers way too much credit for being effective. Honest error in the face of complex and possibly intractable problems is a far more important source of bad results than are bad motives. For these reasons, the greatest forces in Washington are ideas, and people prepared to act on those ideas. Public service isn’t easy. But, in the end, if you are inclined in that direction, it is a worthy and challenging pursuit.
5) 既然我上面提到社会学，不防在这里也讨论一下政治。 对于政治，我很推崇Lily Tomlin 的一句话：“我努力去愤世嫉俗， 但是我却无法跟上（时代的步伐）。”我们或多或少都有过这种是感觉。事实上，在华盛顿这11年来，我经历了很多这种感觉。 最终，与其愤世嫉俗不如批判性思考和建设性行动。当然，正如你在政治课上所学到的那样，利益、金钱和意识形态都是有影响力。但我的经验是大部分政界人士是好的，至少出发点是好的。他们 努力在做正确的事情，但我们应该知道大部分时候，他们对正确与否的判断是受他们的观点和意识所限制的，而非不良动机。如果有的时候你觉得一些不尽人意的结果源于政府人员的个人偏好，和故意之举，那你就高估了他们的影响力了。在处理错综复杂问题上所犯的诚实错误是导致糟糕结果的主要原因，但好过动机不良。因此， 华盛顿最有影响的力量是观念和想法，还有那些愿意把这些观念付诸行动的人们。公共服务并不简单，轻松的事，但如果你愿意选择这一道路，那也是值得的，而且颇具挑战性。
6) Having taken a stab at sociology and political science let me wrap up economics while I’m at it. Economics is a highly sophisticated field of thought that is superb at explaining to policymakers precisely why the choices they made in the past were wrong. About the future, not so much. However, careful economic analysis does have one important benefit, which is that it can help kill ideas that are completely logically inconsistent or wildly at variance with the data. This insight covers at least 90 percent of proposed economic policies.
6) 谈论过政治，社会学，来讲件经济吧。 经济学是颇具诡辩性的思维领域，她是用来很好地向决策者解释为什么他们以往所作的选择或决策是错误的，但对预测未来，则就不是如此。然而，谨慎的经济分析确也有重要益处，她能排除那些不合逻辑或与数据不符的想法。 这种洞察力覆盖至少90％的经济政策建议。
7) I’m not going to tell you that money doesn’t matter, because you wouldn’t believe me anyway. In fact, for too many people around the world, money is literally a life-or-death proposition. But if you are part of the lucky minority with the ability to choose, remember that money is a means, not an end. A career decision based only on money and not on love of the work or a desire to make a difference is a recipe for unhappiness.
8) Nobody likes to fail but failure is an essential part of life and of learning. If your uniform isn’t dirty, you haven’t been in the game.
9) I spoke earlier about definitions of personal success in an unpredictable world. I hope that as you develop your own definition of success, you will be able to do so, if you wish, with a close companion on your journey. In making that choice, remember that physical beauty is evolution’s way of assuring us that the other person doesn’t have too many intestinal parasites. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for beauty, romance, and sexual attraction–where would Hollywood and Madison Avenue be without them? But while important, those are not the only things to look for in a partner. The two of you will have a long trip together, I hope, and you will need each other’s support and sympathy more times than you can count. Speaking as somebody who has been happily married for 35 years, I can’t imagine any choice more consequential for a lifelong journey than the choice of a traveling companion.
9) 我在前面提到了在这不可能预知的世界里对个人成功的定义。我希望你们能够发展你们自己对成功的定义。在这一过程中，你们愿意而且能够找到一位人生的伴侣，陪你一起走过。在选择伴侣时，要记住外表美只能证明他/她是人类，与普通人一样，有同样多的肠道寄生虫。不要误解我，我也为美丽、浪漫和性所吸引。 不然的话，美国影视业和广告业怎么生存下去呢？但尽管外在美很重要，但不因该是你寻找人生伴侣时唯一考量的条件。你们将共同走过漫长人生旅程，需要对方的支持和关爱比你所以为的要多得多。作为幸福地已婚了35年的人士，我想象不到有啥比选择人生伴侣更重要的事情了。
10) Call your mom and dad once in a while. A time will come when you will want your own grown-up, busy, hyper-successful children to call you. Also, remember who paid your tuition to Princeton.
Those are my ten suggestions. They’re probably worth exactly what you paid for them. But they come from someone who shares your affection for this great institution and who wishes you the best for the future.
Congratulations, graduates. Give ’em hell.